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East County Tuesday, Sep. 20, 2022 6 days ago

Lakewood Ranch seeks new security provider

Staff members of the Inter-District Authority have received complaints about the in-person security at neighborhood gates and at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.
by: Ian Swaby Staff Writer

The Lakewood Ranch Inter-District Authority is shopping for another security provider.

Tom Merrell, director of operations for the Inter-District Authority, said the IDA has received complaints about the in-person security at the Lakewood Ranch neighborhood gates and at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.

Currently, security is provided by the Tactical Services Group.

According to CDD officials, the company has experienced corporate restructuring, becoming absorbed into its current form from what was previously Code Black Security, although it still utilizes the same staff.

The restructuring was noted during an IDA board meeting in late August.

The company provides security guards at neighborhood gates for Community Development Districts 2, 5 and 6, which all manage portions of Lakewood Ranch Country Club, as well as for the Town Hall, and also provides a roving patrol for District 4 of the Greenbrook area.

The company is not related to Allied Universal, which provides virtual guards at gates for after-hours visitors.

Merrell said he began to observe a decrease in services with the ownership change of the company.

“We have vendors that we've had fantastic relationships with for years, and then something changes in their management. It's not uncommon,” Merrell said.

However, he said the services were nonetheless being impacted. “We noticed the service digressing, and it increased after the transition of the ownership of the company,” he said. “We kind of saw the writing on the walls.”

He said after IDA staff members brought their concerns to the company’s management, there had been no correction of the issues.

Tactical Services Group did not want to comment. 

Merrell said he expects to have new proposals to present to the districts within about two weeks but that it would likely be the beginning of November before new guard staff can be implemented, with establishing a team being among the activities that would need to be completed.

Merrell said in some cases, residents have reported driving through an entrance to their neighborhood and observed a guard simply opening a gate for a vendor. He said guards are provided with a protocol for responding to guests, no matter who those guests might be.

Often, he said, these vendors are ones which the guards are familiar with and have admitted multiple times in the past, a fact of which residents might be unaware.

Another issue Merrell discussed was instances in which guards were absent for too long a period, due to taking breaks inside the guard house. He said there were no specific break times set forth in the contract, and labor laws require that employees be allowed to have breaks.

Other complaints, Merrell said, have included the physical appearance of guards with residents feeling some guards have not presented themselves professionally, with one particular guard being known for a consistently disheveled look.

“Residents view this as the first impression guests receive when they come in the gates,” he said.

However, he also cited issues related to events at the Lakewood Ranch Town Hall. Although daytime events require no security, during night events, guards are employed to maintain presence there. Although unarmed, they provide access through the front doors, as well as ensure the doors are locked as guests leave.

Sometimes, Merrell said, guards have failed to show up on time due to scheduling conflicts, leaving event attendees locked out.

“It seems to happen more often than it should,” he said.  

The IDA does not have a formal process for keeping track of resident complaints related to guards. He said calls are received by the front desk at the Town Hall and by the operations department, and the amount of calls received in the latter area is two to three per month.

Views on the services were mainly positive among Community Development District officials.

Pete Bokach, the board chair for District 2, said the move was a routine switch.

“It's just coincidental that the contract is up, but it's no different than any vendors that we have,” Bokach said. “We like to ask every month, how are we doing with (CEPRA Landscape)? How are we doing with ‘x, y, z’ vendor?”

Staff members of District 4 gave favorable reviews toward the roving patrol which Tactical Services Group also manages within the Greenbrook area.

The patrol’s main purpose, Merrell said, is for guards to examine the area for unusual activity in the evening hours, driving through the neighborhood using marked patrol vehicles and making stops at Greenbrook Adventure Park and Greenbrook Park.

“The services we have are fine,” Vice Chair Keith Davey said.

James Rogoze, board chair for CDD6, which manages the common areas of Country Club, said the board wanted to follow the advice from the IDA to switch to a new provider, to be sure it could offer the best quality of service.

He said that Code Black Security provides the district with boards showing the locations to which security are currently attending. He said guards are currently making the rounds of Greenbrook at least three times per night.

Merrell said there have been concerns with whether guards are visiting all checkpoints, as with the ownership change, there was a change in the guard software that produces the reports; reports used to be generated digitally, but now are handwritten.

Merrell said although economic issues such as staffing shortages are currently affecting the districts, he does not believe these are primarily responsible for impacts to the quality of guard services. 

He said to his knowledge, the company uses mainly the same staff that were present in Code Black Security and did not seem to be affected in the realm of personnel.

The new contracts are anticipated to raise the price of security, but Merrell said he hoped they would provide a price where guard pay rates are more in line with the level of service expected.

“We want the best deal we can get of course, but, that said, we understand, you get what you pay for,” Merrell said.

He also said the fact that the prior contract was created multiple years ago would inevitably make a newer contract more expensive.

The proposal process in this case will be expedited, Merrell said. Typically, the IDA goes through a Request for Proposal process, which requires time for quotes to be acquired before they can be presented to the board for approval.

However, this time, the IDA is looking at contracts that have already been vetted for approval by other state, county, or governmental municipalities.

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